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  • Ruth Schocken Katz

Coaching Snippet: On Dependence and Independence








Setting boundaries in a relationship can be tricky. On one hand, there’s a sense of togetherness, a unit, and on the other, two individuals, separately navigating this togetherness.

People hold different beliefs about the extent to which a union should be manifested in everyday life. Having held on to a story of a romantic relationship being a set-up in which things are always done together, my client is finding out that dependence and independence are not mutually exclusive.

Finding, accepting and respecting our independence in a relationship allows us to set clear boundaries. If we expect to do everything together, we blur boundaries, both our own and those of our partner’s. But if we accept a degree of independence in a relationship it becomes easier to set clear boundaries.



INT. DAY. OFFICE

Claudia and her partner have been going through a rough patch of arguments and fighting for a few years now. She and I had been working on her part in this ongoing cycle of conflict. Following a family issue back in Spain, her partner had been gone for nearly a month and she's had some time to manage the household without him.


ME

So what have you noticed during that time he's been away?


CLAUDIA

I noticed that things are obviously calmer. He keeps in touch and when he calls, he sometimes annoys me. He still expects me to do things. But it feels different.


ME

In what way is it different?


CLAUDIA

In that once the call is done, things are up to me as to how I want to do them.


ME

You mean you have more agency?


CLAUDIA

Yes. I also have more time between the calls so I am less triggered by him.


ME

And how does time allow you to be less triggered?


CLAUDIA

It's because when I have more time, I can think things through more, and I can plan better and anticipate what things would sound like to him when I share them. So I can say them better.


ME

I'd like to check I got that right, because I feel that's a new insight.

Are you saying that having more time means that you say things differently? Because you can anticipate how they would be heard?


CLAUDIA

Yes.


ME

So what I am hearing you saying is that time allows you to empathise more. To see your partner differently so that you trigger him less.


CLAUDIA

I guess so.


ME

I sense some disappointment in your voice?


CLAUDIA

Yes. Because it's a lot of work.


ME

Yes, but saves you the work of having to put out the flames once things have triggered a fire.


CLAUDIA

I guess so.


ME

You also said you get to plan things better and have more agency. Right?


CLAUDIA

Yes. It feels I like I have better control of things. Like I am more able.


ME

I want to suggest to you that what you are describing is a sense of independence, within your dependent relationship. You feel more independent when he is not here.


CLAUDIA

Yes. Because things are just up to me to do and decide, even if I ask him. Ultimately it is up to me.


ME

I want to remind you that you have always described to me your idea of a relationship being a couple of people who are dependent on each other, and who are doing things together.


CLAUDIA

Yes. I still think that.


ME

But here you are finding a sense of agency, and independence within that relationship, and that feels good.


CLAUDIA

Yes.


ME

You seem surprised?


CLAUDIA

I still think being a couple is about doing things together and being dependent.


ME

And how is your newfound sense of independence contradicting that?


She is thinking about this for a while.


CLAUDIA

I guess it doesn't.


ME

It doesn't because you can have both dependence and independence at the same time. They are not mutually exclusive.


CLAUDIA

Yes. I guess I am still consulting with him. And he has the chance to have an input. And I can choose whether to accept it or not.


ME

Exactly. So you have agency in that, and it is not just about you two always agreeing. Because you don't always agree. No one does.


CLAUDIA

Yes.


She pauses.


That makes me sad still.


ME

I think that's understandable. You have been holding on to a story of what a relationship is for decades now. You are suddenly gaining a new insight which is changing that story, ever so slightly. It's hard to let go of the old story.


CLAUDIA

It is.


ME

But by doing that, you are seeing your partner like you have never seen him before. You are anticipating how he would hear things you say.


CLAUDIA

And I am seeing myself like I have not seen myself before. Like I can decide things by myself. I can trust myself without having to always please him.


ME

And how does that feel?


CLAUDIA

It feels good. But strange too.


*names and places have been changed to honour privacy


Illustration by Evie Fridel



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